Saturday, May 28, 2011

Music on My Mind

Jimmie Rodgers, "Kisses Sweeter than Wine." Not quite sure why it's on my mind, but it's the sort of song that sticks if you hear it once.

Causally Unconstrained

Richard Beck has an interesting but ultimately rather confused post on free will. He rejects the notion that free will is a causal capacity:

To repeat my criticism, I don't think "free will" means "causally unconstrained." I don't see how it is possible for the human brain--the apparatus of human volition--to step outside the causal flux. That ability, as Harry Frankfurt points out, is a question of power, not freedom. Humans are not omnipotent. We are finite, causally bounded creatures. Consequently, we are unable to step outside the system.

Pretty much every point of this argument is problematic, from the unanalyzed ambiguities of the phrase 'causally unconstrained' to the notion of the brain as 'the apparatus of human volition' to the extraordinarily vague 'causal flux' to the assumption that causal non-constraint implies omnipotence or stepping outside the system. Obviously something can be causally unconstrained in a number of very different ways; the brain is the 'apparatus of human volition' in pretty much the same way everything else about us is, and we might as well call our toes or our lungs the apparatus of human volition; by 'causal flux' he seems to mean 'things happening according to causal laws', which is useless unless the particular causal laws in question are specified; and obviously something may be causally unconstrained in one way but not others (and therefore not omnipotent); and input into a system is not 'stepping outside the system', even if it were an input of new initial conditions, and talk of such a thing is useless in any case unless you specify the system in question. But what I find more interesting is what he intends to put in its place:

So for me, free will isn't about causality. It is, rather, more akin to what we might call political freedom. Emancipation.

There are two aspects, positive and negative, related to this notion. The first is a negative. If I lock you up in a jail you are not free. If I let you out you become free. Freedom here is liberation, a freedom from....

If being released from jail is an example of negative freedom, freedom from the jail, then education is a good example of positive freedom, freedom to.

For example, one of the reasons we educate ourselves and our children is to increase our opportunities, to increase our choices. We become free to do this or free to do that. Thus, we become more free with education. Our horizons expand. We have greater knowledge and skill. As they say, "Knowledge is power." That power is the expansion of choice. What was once closed to us is now open. Less a freedom from than a freedom to.

The problem, of course, is that this is all just about ability and power, too. When I say that I am free from prison, what do I mean? I mean that prison and the causal factors associated with are not constraining me. I step outside the prison system. When I say that education frees me, what do I mean? I mean that education removes an impediment to my causal capacity. 'Horizons' don't expand in one direction, but in many different directions, any one of which you can go. If you can't actually go in all those different directions, your horizon hasn't expanded at all. If your choice is not choice from set of alternatives to no one of which you are causally constrained, your choices do not increase, they merely become different. And only if you are causally unconstrained with respect to this can you actually do this or do that; if something causally constrains you to do this, there's really no good pretending that you can also do that.

Thus political freedom, both positive and negative, is as much a form of being causally unconstrained as any other freedom we might have notions of; reject causal non-constraint, you empty political freedom of any positive meaning. You can still have negative freedom, which depends on a purely relative notion of causal non-constraint: a leaf that is falling is no longer constrained by the particular forces that held it to its branches. But positive freedom requires that we actually have options, and that requires that we are not actually constrained by any of our causes to only one possibility. Beck is quite right when later he associates skill and freedom and says, "the greater the skill the greater the freedom." That is a very medieval Aristotelian point; but, of course, there is a connection between greater skill and greater freedom due to the fact that you are less constrained to one thing the more skillful you are. Knowledge, technical skills, and virtues like prudence or justice open up options by closing down things that close down options. What Beck is really trying to do is have his cake and eat it, too: having a robust positive notion of freedom (greater horizons, expansion of choices) while denying the precondition for this. A consistent compatibilist would usually avoid this by reworking what is supposed to count as the positive notion of freedom so that it doesn't involve these things, but Beck seems to want to have it both ways.

What is happening, of course, as is made explicit in some of the comments to the post, is that Beck is asking one question: "Are human beings finite, physical, causally bounded creatures?" And the answer to this, obviously, is yes: hence his repeated denunciations of the straw man position that we are omnipotent. But this answer has no intrinsic connection with most of the conclusions Beck draws from it, unless you equivocate on the meaning of 'causally bounded', 'finite', and 'physical'.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ripheus in Heaven

Now knoweth he how heaven enamoured is
With a just king; and in the outward show
Of his effulgence he reveals it still.
Who would believe, down in the errant world,
That e'er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
Could be the fifth one of the holy lights?
Now knoweth he enough of what the world
Has not the power to see of grace divine,
Although his sight may not discern the bottom.

Dante places two pagans in Heaven: the Emperor Trajan and the Trojan prince Ripheus. For the former he was following a legend that St. Gregory the Great prayed for Trajan's salvation on seeing a monument to Trajan's compassion; in response to which God resurrected Trajan for long enough to be baptized and then reprimanded St. Gregory for presumption. No such legend attaches to Ripheus, mentioned above (in Longfellow's translation of Paradiso XX) but Dante seems to have been struck by the description of his death in Book II of Virgil's Aeneid. The description is something like, "Ripheus fell as well, uniquely most just of all Trojans, most faithful of preservers of equity; but to the gods it seemed otherwise." But since I quoted Longfellow's Paradiso, I might as well quote Dryden's Aeneid:

Then Ripheus follow'd, in th' unequal fight;
Just of his word, observant of the right:
Heav'n thought not so.

It's an interesting comment: Virgil tells us flat out that Ripheus was most just and most equitable and then says that the gods didn't think so (dis aliter visum). What he means, of course, is that Ripheus's justice availed nothing: no matter how just he was the gods did not save him. Dante seems to have been struck by this; when introducing Ripheus he makes a point of underlining that God loves a just king. The injustice of the pagan gods is overcome by the mercy of the God of Heaven: according to Dante, Faith, Hope, and Love came to Ripheus and baptized him:

The other one, through grace, that from so deep
A fountain wells that never hath the eye
Of any creature reached its primal wave,
Set all his love below on righteousness;
Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
His eye to our redemption yet to be,
Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
From that day forth the stench of paganism,
And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.
Those Maidens three, whom at the right-hand wheel
Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
More than a thousand years before baptizing.

But why the special attention for Ripheus? To this question, Beatrice replies that Dante the narrator is not able to understand God's purposes:

O thou predestination, how remote
Thy root is from the aspect of all those
Who the First Cause do not behold entire!

Dante lacks the eyesight to see what grace does; and as Dante, so we. The practical implications are then clear:

And you, O mortals! hold yourselves restrained
In judging; for ourselves, who look on God,
We do not know as yet all the elect;
And sweet to us is such a deprivation,
Because our good in this good is made perfect,
That whatsoe'er God wills, we also will.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Yesterday was the Feast of St. Beda, Doctor of the Church, commonly known as the Venerable Bede; I meant to put something up to mark the occasion, but forgot. From the beginning of his Ecclesiastical History of England:

Britain, an island in the ocean, formerly called Albion, is situated between the north and west, facing, though at a considerable distance, the coasts of Germany, France, and Spain, which form the greatest part of Europe. It extends 800 miles in length towards the north, and is 200 miles in breadth, except where several promontories extend further in breadth, by which its compass is made to be 3675 miles. To the south, as you pass along the nearest shore of the Belgic Gaul, the first place in Britain which opens to the eye is the city of Rutubi Portus, by the English corrupted into Reptacestir. The distance from hence across the sea to Gessoriacum, the nearest shore of the Morini, is fifty miles, or as some writers say, 450 furlongs. On the back of the island, where it opens upon the boundless ocean, it has the islands called Orcades. Britain excels for grain and trees, and is well adapted for feeding cattle and beasts of burden. It also produces vines in some places, and has plenty of land and waterfowls of several sorts; it is remarkable also for rivers abounding in fish, and plentiful springs. It has the greatest plenty of salmon and eels; seals are also frequently taken, and dolphins, as also whales; besides many sorts of shellfish, such as muscles, in which are often found excellent pearls of all colours, red, purple, violet, and green, but mostly white. There is also a great abundance of cockles, of which the scarlet dye is made; a most beautiful colour, which never fades with the heat of the sun or the washing of the rain; but the older it is, the more beautiful it becomes. It has both salt and hot springs, and from them flow rivers which furnish hot baths, proper for all ages and sexes, and arranged according. For water, as St. Basil says, receives the heating quality, when it runs along certain metals, and becomes not only hot but scalding. Britain has also many veins of metals, as copper, iron, lead, and silver; it has much and excellent jet, which is black and sparkling, glittering at the fire, and when heated, drives away serpents; being warmed with rubbing, it holds fast whatever is applied to it, like amber. The island was formerly embellished with twenty­eight noble cities, besides innumerable castles, which were all strongly secured with walls, towers, gates, and locks. And, from its lying almost under the North Pole, the nights are light in summer, so that at midnight the beholders are often in doubt whether the evening twilight still continues, or that of the morning is coming on; for the sun, in the night, returns under the earth, through the northern regions at no great distance from them. For this reason the days are of a great length in summer, as, on the contrary, the nights are in winter, for the sun then withdraws into the southern parts, so that the nights are eighteen hours long. Thus the nights are extraordinarily short in summer, and the days in winter, that is, of only six equinoctial hours. Whereas, in Armenia, Macedonia, Italy, and other countries of the same latitude, the longest day or night extends but to fifteen hours, and the shortest to nine.

Pearl, Ivory, Coral, Diamond, Suns, Gold

Vaunt Not, Fair Heavens, of Your Two Glorious Lights
by William Drummond

Vaunt not, fair heavens, of your two glorious lights
Which, though most bright, yet see not when they shine,
And shining, cannot show their beams divine
Both in one place, but part by days and nights;
Earth, vaunt not of those treasures ye enshrine,
Held only dear because hid from our sights,
Your pure and burnish'd gold, your diamonds fine,
Snow-passing ivory that the eye delights;
Nor, seas, of those dear wares are in you found,
Vaunt not, rich pearl, red coral, which do stir
A fond desire in fools to plunge your ground;
Those all, more fair, are to be had in her;
Pearl, ivory, coral, diamond, suns, gold,
Teeth, neck, lips, heart, eyes, hair, are to behold.

The parallelism of the last couplet is quite clever as a way of tying the rest of the poem together and giving it its point.

Tabulating →

Alexander Pruss had a post a while back giving an argument that indicative conditionals (if p then q) are material conditionals (Either q or not-p, as this would be understood in ordinary propositional logic). Longtime readers will know that I think indicative conditionals are almost never material conditionals and that the standard practice of representing them in logic as if they were will usually leave something important out (many indicative conditionals can indeed be represented for many logical purposes as material conditionals but at least most of those will leave something out that would be logically important under different conditions and many indicative conditionals are not material conditionals at all); indeed, claiming that they are is one of the ways you can sometimes really get me riled up. Not that Pruss's post riled me up, but this is all by the way of explaining why I've been intending to say something about this esoteric post for three weeks now.

Pruss's argument is:

(1) For any possible world w: (p at w) → (q at w) if and only if (p→q at w).
(2) For any predicates F and G, from "Every F is a G" (where "x is an F" is more euphonious way of saying that x satisfies F) together with the assumption that c exists, it logically follows that if c is an F, then c is a G.
(3) If (1) is true and → is non-hyperintensional, then indicatives are material.
(4) If (2) is true and → is non-hyperintensional, then indicatives are material.
(5) If (2) is true, then one has to assign the same truth value as the material conditional does to a number of paradoxical-sounding examples of indicative conditional sentences that are relevantly just like the standard alleged counterexamples to the thesis that all indicatives are material.

p → q would mean "If p, then q." Never mind the talk about non-hyperintensionality. Pruss's interest is primarily (5). What caught my eye was (1), which Pruss characterizes as plausible. I don't think it is plausible -- or to be more exact, I think it is plausible only under certain kinds of assumptions, assumptions that often are not true.

Consider the following way of thinking about possible worlds. Let every possible world be represented by a table, on which sentences are printed that represent what's true in that world. So a possible world in which "Dogs exist" is true would be represented as:

Dogs exist.

Now, we want to allow lots of possible worlds, and therefore many tables. But from one possible world one can infer a great many things about any of the possible worlds we are allowing (sometimes including itself). We can represent these as rules governing the tables themselves. There are many kinds of rules you can have; some of them will simply say that there's an allowed table somewhere that has a particular sentence on it, others might say that particular sentences are on every table we allow, others might say that if you have a particular sentence on one table there will be a particular sentence on another table.

So when we look at the left-hand side of Pruss's formula, (p at w) → (q at w), what this tells you is that whenever any allowed table (w) has the sentence "p" written on it the sentence "q" is should also be written on it. So if p is "Dogs exist" and q is "Dogs are friendly" then any table with p looks like this:

Dogs exist.
Dogs are friendly.

The left-hand side of the formula [(p→q at w)], however, would give us a w that looks like this:

If dogs exist, dogs are friendly.

Now, if the full formula [(p at w) → (q at w) if and only if (p→q at w)] were really true, these tables should look the same. In particular, they should both look like this:

Dogs exist.
Dogs are friendly.
If dogs exist, dogs are friendly.

Yet they don't. Why? Because Pruss's formula is only true if you make assumptions we haven't made yet.

In effect what this shows us in miniature is that Pruss's formula is only plausible if we assume that modality (the rules governing what sentences you can write on various tables) doesn't play any significant role in the meaning of indicative conditionals. Since I'm a constructivist about what philosophers call 'possible worlds', I think possible worlds in a sense just are tables modeling possiblity and the like: and since I'm a Humpty-Dumptyist about logical models, I can do whatever I please with tables, and therefore with possible worlds, and I dare both you and the tables to try to stop me. The essence of logic, like that of mathematics, is absolute freedom within the confines of ultimate consistency. So this is why I don't find Pruss's (1) very plausible at all.

Of course, one might not accept such views, but this is not essential to my main point, which is that Pruss's (1) is plausibly true only if certain assumptions are made about the modal landscape, and the assumption that whenever we find indicative conditionals, those assumptions are in fact assumed. I am not at all convinced that this is always true, and even one exception would make (1), which has no qualifications, false. (1) may have a more restricted true version; indeed, I think there surely must be a restricted form that is true of some modal set-ups, and maybe even all the more common ones. In any case, my point is just that any assumptions that might make (1) plausible are stronger assumptions than one might think.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Consider Giving

The Africa Windmill Project is gathering donations to buy a truck; they are a bit more than halfway there. If you have a few dollars to give, consider doing so: the program does some excellent work in helping farmers in Malawi improve sanitation conditions, increase the sustainability of their agricultural projects, and expand their growing season.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The St. Louis Movement

The Western Confucian notes an article on the St. Louis Hegelians. The place of the St. Louis Hegelians in American thought has not, I think, been properly studied and appreciated yet; founded by William Torrey Harris and Henry Conrad Brokmeyer, the movement essentially mediates between two much better known philosophical movements, the Transcendentalists on the earlier end and the Personalists and the Pragmatists on the later end, pretty much created the idea of a Philosophy Department (as opposed to seeing philosophy as a general framework for education) and of academic philosophy as a profession (although the movement was not by any means confined to academia the way philosophy now often is), and established a considerable amount of the nineteenth century intellectual infrastructure of the United States.

Hegelianism is not especially popular these days, despite some small resurgences of interest, but this was not true in the nineteenth century; Germany had its Hegelian turn and Britain had its Hegelian turn, so it's actually unsurprising that America had one as well. The Hegelianism of the St. Louis circle is often said to have had no lasting effect on the intellectual life of the nation, but I think this is almost certainly false (and particularly when it comes to how the nation thought about matters of education, of ethics, and of itself). But it is certainly true that the courses of its influence are largely unstudied and therefore largely unknown; there's a great deal of guesswork involved at present.

It's the institutional effects that are easiest to trace. The existence of kindergartens in the U.S., for instance, is largely due to Susan Elizabeth Blow, one of the more important members of the St. Louis circle. The idea of a kindergarten had been developed by the German philosopher of education Friedrich Froebel under the influence of Romantic ideas. The kindergarten did not easily take off in any of the German states at the time: it was regarded as subversive of the institutions of society and Prussia, for instance, outlawed them, claiming that they cultivated atheism and demagoguery (Froebel's defenders held that Prussia did this because the education minister was so stupid that he confused Froebel with another Froebel who was a notorious atheist). Things were better in Froebel's native Thuringia, but the spread was still rather slow. A few kindergartens were established here and there in the U.S. by people influenced by Froebel's ideas, but it was Blow who turned it into a movement, adapting it to American conditions, developing Froebel's theories, and turning the U.S. kindergarten movement into one of the major educational projects of the day. From that point on the idea of the kindergarten spread all over the world. But it is a notable and interesting fact that kindergarten teachers were originally taught their trade by Hegelians, on Hegelian principles.

Other institutional influences can be found. The Scotsman Thomas Davidson returned from St. Louis to Britain and founded a society, the Fellowship of New Life, which included such notables as George Bernard Shaw and Havelock Ellis. A falling out over the mission of the society -- a number of the members thought Davidson put excessive emphasis on the spiritual at the expense of the material -- led to the formation of the Fabian Society.

In this day and age it's pleasantly easy to uncover many of the works of the St. Louis Hegelians; here is just a handful of works available at Google Books (many of them could also be found at the Internet Archive) by some of the more important or notable St. Louis Hegelians.

William Torrey Harris, The Theory of American Education
William Torrey Harris, Hegel's Logic

Denton Jacques Snider, The State, Specially the American State, Psychologically Considered
Denton Jacques Snider, Abraham Lincoln: An Interpretation in Biography
Denton Jacques Snider, Social Institutions in Their Origin, Growth, and Interconnection, Psychologically Treated
Denton Jacques Snider, The Psychology of Froebel's Play-Gifts
Denton Jacques Snider, The St. Louis Movement in Philosophy, Literature, Education, Psychology, with Chapters of Autobiography

Susan Elizabeth Blow, Educational Issues in Kindergarten
Susan Elizabeth Blow, Symbolic Education: A Commentary on Froebel's 'Mother Play'
Susan Elizabeth Blow, Letters to a Mother on the Philosophy of Froebel
Susan Elizabeth Blow, A Study in Dante

Marietta Kies, Institutional Ethics

Two Poem Re-Drafts and a New Poem Draft

You and I Have Never Touched

You and I have never touched
but our shadows have entangled;
the brush of shade against my shade
was like the touch of angels.

You and I have never kissed
but we kiss the same spring wind;
Zephyr on my mouth began
and on your lips now ends.

Grass Is Not Green

Grass is not green;
those poets lie who use that word to describe
the golden glow of sunlit blade
when filled with ardor of bright ray.
'Green' is mundane to the last;
can it catch a mead of sunlit grass?
But as the angels and our God
are named with foolish names,
every name thus falling short,
so splendid grass on sunlit day
we call 'green' -- a child's game,
a jest we jest in pleasant sport,
a pet name made in play.

Already Sorry

The sun's shining high in the bright bluebird sky -
The grass springs up at my feet -
Your hair is spun gold like princesses' of old -
Your lips taste so honey-sweet -
Your eyes are startling blue -
And I'm already sorry for loving you.

With your words in my ears I brush back the tears -
Rejoicing resurges inside -
The force of the ache, more than I can take -
The heart bursts open with pride -
The world so painfully new -
That I'm already sorry for loving you.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Notables and Linkables

* The Suburban Banshee notes an online archive of some of Turing's documents, and discusses his trip to Dayton.

* Joe Trabbic has an interesting series of notes on Heidegger:

Heidegger and Catholicism: Some Very Introductory Notes
Heidegger and the Question of Being, Part 1
Heidegger and the Question of Being, Part 2: Being in the Early Heidegger
Heidegger and the Question of Being, Part 3: Being in the Early Heidegger (cont'd)
Heidegger and the Question of Being, Part 4: Being in the Later Heidegger

There will be more in the series, over time (a long time, apparently).

* The CDC's guide to surviving a zombie apocalypse. (ht) I suppose you have to have a sense of humor in their line of work.

* On the issue of torture, Julian Baggini says never say never and H. E. Baber says utilitarianism is the best we've got to work with. Both are wrong, of course. We don't really get much of an argument in either post, but they were both just answering a question.

* Bollywood vs. Islamic extremism. As to the all-important Sheila vs. Munni issue, Munni is prettier, but Katrina Kaif, if you are reading this and want to try to change my mind, that's an experiment I'm willing to try.

* St. John's Episcopal Church Montclair is having an interfaith service:

While there’s no minaret at the church, the words of “Allahu akbar,” (God is greater) will none-the-less invite both Christians and Muslims to worship side by side. During the interfaith service, verses from the Holy Qur’an will complement readings from the Holy Bible, including during Communion, embracing the traditions of both religions.

Yes, that sounds like a typical ecumenical venture from the Episcopalians: while reading the Qur'an, according to which Jesus did not die on the cross but was rescued by God, we'll celebrate Communion, which represents and proclaims the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Perhaps readings of Sura 4 can complement readings of 1 Corinthians 11; that will no doubt work well -- we'll both embrace the Crucifixion and the view that it is an insult against the All-Merciful, thus blending the two communities in peace and love.

Really, this is why Episcopalians are so exasperating: if they were really serious about blending the communities and embracing the traditions of both, they'd close down their church and become Baha'is.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

On Smith on Lying II

Janet Smith has an article in First Things that sums up her previous paper (which I discussed a bit a while back) on Aquinas's account of lying. Some things that were problematic in the original drop out of the summary, but there are still several points that need to be stated.

(1) The mention of John Paul II's words about the Catechism is irrelevant; the official Catechism is and has always been the Latin version. The qualification in the first version was only in the English translation. One of the major points of publishing the Catechism in stages was to allow feedback on quality of translations, and the reason the second edition was put out what was to present translations more faithful to the Latin that was actually promulgated. [ADDED LATER: Tom notes in the comments that the evidence for this is somewhat less straightforward than I had thought. I'm looking into the matter more closely. ADDED LATER: I was wrong on this particular point; apologies. One of the problems throughout has been a lot of confusion about different editions of the catechism. In any case, it doesn't change the other points.]

(2) It's forgivable given that she's just summarizing, but her handling of Scripture is extraordinarily vague and handwavey. The interpretations of the midwives, etc., were not simply ad hoc interpretations designed to save the claim speaking falsely with the intent to deceive is always wrong; there is evidence both in the passages themselves and in how the Church has traditionally understood them to be related to other parts of the canon that support the interpretations. (To take just one example, the midwives are explicitly praised only for fearing God, which they did by saving the children, which preceded their lie to Pharaoh to save themselves.)

(3) As for most of the rest of the argument, my original points still stand: Smith overlooks the context of Aquinas's discussion of lying (the virtue of truthfulness and moral debts of justice broadly construed), she misunderstands the sense in which truth is taken by Aquinas to be the end of speech (e.g., Aquinas does not condemn all false representations of reality, or he'd be condemning almost every videtur in the Summa, since the very structure of the Summa requires giving, in its most plausible forms, false representations of reality, in order to correct or reject them, and her claim about soldiers and empty tents directly contradicts what Aquinas actually says on the subject), and the suggestion that Aquinas, of all people, had no clue that language could be used to "correct, console, encourage, and deter" is merely absurd.

(4) She makes the standard confusion of the right-to-truth crowd in suggesting that if we hold that speaking falsely with the intent to deceive always falls short morally then we are holding that everyone has a right to truth. Actually, very, very few people have any clear and definite right to truth in any circumstances (I mean, seriously, how many times a month are you in a situation in which you would be failing to give someone what you, yourself, definitely owe them by simply not telling them something?); but this is an entirely separate matter.

(5) Given that Smith is famously a defender of Humanae Vitae and its prohibition of contraception, it is the height of irony that almost every single argument Smith gives here has a corresponding version given by opponents of the Church's position of contraception. And this is so extraordinarily obvious that it is simply mystifying to me that she doesn't see it. These are all the kinds of arguments that Smith criticizes heavily when they appear in the texts of dissenting theologians on the subject of sex and procreation; it is remarkable that she leaps to them so easily on a subject like reason and truth. And the thing of it is, the arguments that speaking falsely with the intent to deceive is always wrong are massively stronger than the arguments that contraceptive sex is always wrong: Scripture says a lot more about the general subject of lying, for instance; the great theologians and Doctors of the Church discuss it at much greater length; the intrinsic connection between reason and truth as an end (not merely speech and truth) on which Aquinas builds his main philosophical argument is much harder to evade without being self-defeating; the moral debt of truthfulness admits of a much broader range of philosophical supporting arguments; and the sorts of arguments Smith gives here are much less plausible in the arena of sexual ends than they are in the arena of ends of reason as such. This is an extraordinary apparent inconsistency that needs to be explained.

In any case, my original quodlibetal question on the subject still stands, and isn't affected by anything in Smith's summary here.


Novalis was born Georg Friedrich Philipp von Hardenberg in 1772; he became a major figure in the German Romantic movement in the 1790s; he started using the pen name 'Novalis' in 1798; and he died of tuberculosis in 1801. His most famous works are his poetic cycle, Hymns to the Night, and the fictional works, The Apprentices at Sais and Heinrich von Ofterdingen (the latter of which gives us the famous Romantic image of the Blue Flower, die blaue Blume). He had a whirlwind and controversial life. As a twenty-two-year-old civil servant in Tennstedt, he met and secretly engaged a thirteen-year-old girl named Sophie von Kühn. Her death two years later would massively affect the young man and, through him, the entire Romantic movement.

Librivox has a nice German audio version of the Hymnen an die Nacht. It's worth listening to a bit, even for those of us whose German is not good enough to follow very closely, just for the sound of it. I tend not to like the sound of German, but Novalis makes it sound poetic.

An English translation of Hymns to the Night (essentially an updated version of George MacDonald's 1897 version).

An English translation of Heinrich von Ofterdingen.